6 Sep 2023 5:19 AM GMT
In a significant development, the Supreme Court on Wednesday set aside the notification issued by the Union Territory of Ladakh on August 5 for the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) election in the Kargil region, which was scheduled on September 10.The Court further held that the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference Party(JKNC) is entitled to the 'plough' symbol. The...
In a significant development, the Supreme Court on Wednesday set aside the notification issued by the Union Territory of Ladakh on August 5 for the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) election in the Kargil region, which was scheduled on September 10.
The Court further held that the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference Party(JKNC) is entitled to the 'plough' symbol. The Court passed this ruling dismissing the petition filed by the Union Territory of Ladakh opposing the allotment of 'plough' symbol to JKNC. The Court imposed a cost of Rupees One Lakh on the Ladakh Administration for filing the petition. The Administration has been directed to issue a fresh election notification within seven days.
The bench comprising Justices Vikram Nath and Ahsanuddin Amanullah, which had reserved orders on September 1, pronounced the verdict.
"The request for allotment of the Plough symbol by R1 was bonafide, legitimate and just, for the plain reason that in the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir (which included the present Union Territory of Ladakh), it was a recognized State Party having been allotted the Plough symbol. Upon bifurcation of the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir and the creation of two new Union Territories, namely the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir and the Union Territory of Ladakh, though the ECI had not notified R1 as a State Party for the Union Territory of Ladakh, it cannot be simpliciter that R1 was not entitled for the allotment of plough symbol to it, in the factual background", the judgment authored by Justice Amanullah stated.
The Court further noted that the allotment of plough symbol to JKNC will not cause any conflict as it is not allotted to any other parties or is included in the list of free symbols.
The Ladakh Administration had filed the special leave petition challenging the direction passed by the High Court of Jammu & Kashmir & Ladakh to notify the 'plough' symbol for JKNC.
The case of the JKNC is that the 'plough' symbol is reserved for it as it was recognized by the Election Commission of India as a State Party of Jammu and Kashmir.
"...nothing substantive has been shown to this Court to indicate that allotment of the Plough symbol would in any way be an infraction or go against the public interest", the bench noted.
Additional Solicitor General KM Nataraj, appearing for the UT, argued that JKNC was not a recognized state party in Ladakh and hence could not claim vested right over the reserved symbol. He further argued that the High Court erred in placing reliance on the Election (Symbols) Order 1968 as it did not apply to the State of Jammu and Kashmir. The bench then pointed out that the State of J&K is no longer in existence and all the Indian laws are applicable to the region after the 2019 changes.
Adv Shariq Reyaz for JKNC argued, “As a recognized State Political Party under Section 29 of the Representation of People Act, 1951, they are entitled to contest the LAHDC elections on the symbol they had been allocated – the "Plough.The party has a historical connection with this symbol, and it serves as a visual representation that resonates with voters”.
Earlier, the J&K High Court had directed the UT of Ladakh to reserve the "Plough" symbol for the JKNC. The court mandated that JKNC approach the relevant authorities to ensure the "Plough" symbol is duly reserved for them. The Election Commission was directed to follow the provisions of Paragraphs 10 and 10 (A) of the Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order, 1968 while notifying and allowing candidates set up by the JKNC to contest on the reserved symbol.
Supreme Court makes strong observations against Ladakh administration
In the judgment, the Supreme Court made scathing observations deprecating the conduct of Ladakh administration. The Court noted that the JKNC had filed the writ petition well ahead of the election notification. Even after the order was passed by the single bench, the administration delayed compliance.
"It is surprising that the Union Territory of Ladakh not only denied R1(JKNC) the Plough symbol, but even upon timely intervention by the learned Single Judge, has left no stone unturned not only to resist but also frustrate a cause simply by efflux of time", the Court observed.
The Court did not appreciate the conduct of the Ladakh administration in notifying the elections while sitting on the representation made by JKNC seeking the plough symbol.
It further said that the authorities might have been "overconfident" that the Courts will not interfere in the election process and termed it a "misconceived notion".
"The situation emanating herein is, in a manner of speaking, unprecedented. With a sense of anguish, it would not be wrong to say that the instant judgment has been invited upon themselves by the Appellants. The orders of the High Court, in our considered opinion, were in aid of the electoral process, and no fault can be found therewith", the Court observed.
Other stories about the judgment can be read here.
Case : Union Territory of Ladakh v. Jammu and Kashmir National Conference
Citation: 2023 LiveLaw (SC) 749
Click here to read the judgment